see this.’ The talent pool is so deep, you
feel like you should be at the Grammys.”
This year’s nominees include high profile
names – wildly popular worship band Starfield, headlining hip-hop artists Manafest
(who draws stadium-sized crowds in Japan)
and Fresh IE (the first Canadian rapper to
ever be nominated for a Grammy), to name
a few – but also includes new names about
to introduce their music to fresh ears (see
sidebar by Robert White).
The week surrounding
the Covenant Awards
serves as an annual
reunion: martin Smith.
The nomination process for the awards
is designed to foster this type of diversity
and begins with an open call for submissions. This year
GMA Canada received more than 300 entries. The submissions are sent to panels of seven to ten people who
are experts in their respective categories. That process
narrows it down to nominees, who are then voted on by
Nominations Cap Stellar Career for Downhere
With this year’s nominations, the band Downhere will end its career
with close to 40 Covenant Award nominations. With eight, including
Album, Song, Artist and Group of the Year, the foursome could add to
the 21 awards already earned since 2002.
The alternative rock band was started in 1999 by Marc Martel and
Jason Germain, who were roommates at Briercrest Bible College in
Caronport, Sask. The original lineup included Jeremy Thiessen, Tyson
Manning and Corey Doak. When the group moved to Nashville in 2001,
Manning and Doak departed and Glenn Lavender joined.
“We’ve had an awesome career,” says Lavender. “We’ve got to see
a lot of things, play a lot of different places and meet so many great
people. The awards and stuff have been just unbelievable.”
The band announced earlier this year that January 1, 2013 would
“mark the end of our travelling ministry for the foreseeable future.” The
release to fans and supporters emphasized, “This is not a band breakup.
In fact we’re open to playing a select few shows or events in the future.”
Lavender says there had been a few times Downhere thought about
calling it quits, but the always sensed God wanted them to continue.
Now, with Marc Martel busy with the Queen Extravaganza and other
band members’ families on the grow, it was time to “hang up the skates.”
“The fathering hand of God that put us together and allowed us to
do what we do seems to be causing us to end,” says Lavender.
the industry professionals and artists who make up GMA
Canada. Smith says 80 per cent of the membership vote
during a typical year.
“That first group of judges is asked to vote strictly on
quality,” says the president. “They don’t pay attention
to the name. Last year we had a gentleman named Dan
Bremnes who was not a known entity, and he received
Yet, when it comes to awards for faith-based artists,
the proverbial argument about praising people who are
in the business of praising God always seems to pop up.
Pauls says something bigger than self-promotion is the
driving force behind the gala.
“There has been this rub every once in a while between
accolades and servanthood, but this is not necessarily a
self-serving endeavour,” he believes. “The focus is really
on credibility and celebration for artists who are doing a
good job. We want to take on the role of the promoter and
the encourager so these people can continue to humbly do
what they are called to do – minister to people.”
Smith agrees. “Artists certainly appreciate winning
an award, but the whole process really serves as a con-
firmation that they’re on the right path, that they should
be doing what they are doing. Awards are not the be all
and end all, but are great affirmation from their industry
and the people they work with.”
Alberta songwriter and worship musician Jon Bauer
has been nominated in ten categories this year, including
Artist of the Year and Song of the Year, yet awards are the
last thing he wants to talk about. When he spoke with
Faith Today, he had just finished playing an assembly
at a local Catholic school, and was energized by the op-
portunity to lead the kids in worship. “The best reward I
can have is to hear God’s people singing out His praises
from something I’ve written,” he says.
Bauer plays more than 175 live dates a year (often with his
wife and young children in tow), including tours in Germany
and the Philippines where, remarkably, he pulls together
bands from local churches to perform with. “It’s always a
step of faith for me. I just say ‘Lord, I know you want to do
something through this specific group of musicians,’ and I
find it more unifying to have members of that community
up on the stage with me. I’m working with their own people.”
Improvising comes with the territory here. Not having
the support and promotion of big labels behind them,
Canadian gospel artists balance both the levity of artistic
freedom and the weight of self-promotion.
“Our industry in Canada is very much driven by independent artists. People who support GMA are doing
it on their own. Our focus has always been community
lifted together. They don’t have that ‘Meet me in the green
room’ mentality [where performers wait before going on-stage]. Because we don’t have that record label machine
behind it all, we don’t have the pluses and minuses that
come with that,” says Smith.